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Ethics by Design: Ethical Considerations in Engineering

Ethics by Design: Ethical Considerations in Engineering

Balancing the desire to do what is right, profitable and necessary often involves as many ethical questions as legal ones. For the design industry in particular, where nearly every business decision touches upon issues of public safety, ethical issues are even more high-stakes. Indeed, ethical issues often arise at the intersection of cost, client needs and safety considerations. And business ethics also comes into play; issues between and among project participants-engineers, contractors, owners and design professionals-and certification concerns such as the proper use of an engineer’s seal. Conflicts of interest are another area rife with ethical considerations, such as whether the acceptance of a gift can influence an engineer’s independent professional judgment, or whether certain fees or budgets are too low to properly address life safety concerns. At the end of the day, every ethical challenge must be viewed through the lens of protection; that is, design professionals must first work to protect public health, safety and welfare.

The National Society of Professional Engineers authors the primary source of guidance through its Code of Ethics for Engineers. Pursuant to the Code, Engineers must perform their services under a standard of professional care that requires adherence to the highest principles of honesty, impartiality, fairness and equity. Engineers should be familiar with, and regularly consult, all provisions of the Code. Examples of such issues directly covered by the Code include-when an engineer has a responsibility to report non-compliance by a contractor, and when it is proper for an engineer to replace another engineer on a project, as well as the steps that must be followed to do so. With respect to health and safety concerns, the Code sets forth how to navigate the see-something-say-something principle, in other words what to report to clients and any relevant regulatory authorities.

In accordance with its import, the Code is substantial. And some industry professionals may struggle with its application in certain areas or circumstances. We can help. For the benefit of our clients and friends, we have hosted programs to outline the many ethical issues at play in the design and construction industry. These programs put the Code into practice and offer participants the opportunity to examine how the guidelines apply to real-world experience. If you have questions on a particular issue or would like to explore a lunch & learn program at your place of business, feel free to contact us.